Meet the 24-year-old amputee changing the face of yoga

This March, Kelsey Koch, 24, accomplished a major goal: She opened her own yoga studio in her hometown of Grand Blanc, Michigan. It’s an exciting feat for any devoted yogi, but for Koch, it’s especially personal: Owning her own studio allows her to host yoga workshops for people with amputations, like herself.

Born without a tibia, Koch had a through-the-knee amputation on her left leg when she was just 9 months old. Koch says she grew up wearing a prosthetic leg that looked realistic but wasn’t practical for exercising. “Its easy to get caught up in what people think and wanting [a prosthetic] to look as normal as it could,” Koch tells SELF. “It is a beautiful legit has skin, it has toenails, it has everythingbut its just not functional for activities like yoga or running.”

Koch discovered yoga at age 22 after she started working with a personal trainer to treat her scoliosis, which was caused by her amputation. Her trainer suggested she try yoga. “Yoga makes you work both sides of your body,” Koch says. “Im so dominant on my right side, so I first started yoga to hopefully strengthen out my left side.”

Her realistic prosthetic, which she calls her “pretty leg,” made her first attempts at yoga difficult because of its heavy weight and stiff structure. So her trainer suggested she switch to a running blade prosthetic, a lighter model designed for fitness. It made a huge difference in her practice. “With the running blade, it was a lot lighter so I could do inversions a lot easier.”

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